Power pursuits

Ministers attend a Cabinet session at the presidential palace in Baabda, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

At every election, while promises are made that the voting system will be completely revamped, little more than cosmetic changes are introduced, and these only to the advantage of whichever party or group is in power.

But electoral laws should not be molded with one election or party in mind – they must be created to protect all citizens’ interests, designed to enhance democracy and transparency, and able to stand the test of time.

Introducing a new electoral law is not about protecting a majority or a minority, it is about creating the best possible system of representation so that politicians are chosen by the electorate.

As the current plethora of various electoral law proposals floating about has shown, national consensus and unity over the introduction of one such law seems some ways away, even now. The sectarian system of government appears to be making this possibility unfeasible, as different groupings and coalitions put forward varying plans on which the electoral law should be based.

With parliamentary polls set for early next year, and so many different proposals still being discussed, the situation seems out of control. And what voters are being confronted with, yet again, is hypocrisy from those in power. Lebanese officials speak to the world of a democracy which has been fabricated, and doesn’t exist.

In the absence of a universal will to address parliamentary politics as part of a collective national identity, leaders are instead driven by sectarian or tribal backgrounds, their family connections or business interests.

While countries across the world, over the last several hundred years, have realized the importance of separating religion from state, Lebanon remains blind to the necessity of a secular system.

Over the last 22 years, successive presidents and premiers have made it a priority to stress the forthcoming introduction of expat voting. Only recently introduced, of the millions of Lebanese abroad, we now hear that only a few thousand have registered to vote.

In terms of the representation of women in Parliament, Lebanon is failing on this count also. While other countries around the region, which cannot claim to respect gender equality to the same extent as Lebanon, have managed to introduce quotas for women parliamentarians, here, except for the widows or sisters of deceased or imprisoned political male leaders, it is close to impossible for women to seek office.

The electoral law currently being discussed at the parliamentary committee stage is already expected to fail by those who authored it. This whole debacle seems like a waste of time. It seems implausible that a new system will be agreed upon before elections are due.

All the hopes that the 2013 elections may have breathed new life into a stale and dangerous political and security situation may have been for nothing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 28, 2012, on page 7.




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